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The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition

Disney's doldrums during the 1970s and 1980s yielded only a handful of animated feature films with any claim on the studio's canon of classics. Even the best of this weak crop, however, were minor works, despite the generous nostalgic affection afforded them by the now-grown generation who absorbed them as kids. The 1981 release The Fox and the Hound was a respectable hit at the time and has endured as one of the most beloved Disney productions of its period — despite its controversially downbeat story, and ample evidence of corner-cutting production values and failures of imagination that define this dark time for the studio. Based on the book by Daniel P. Mannix, The Fox and the Hound tells the tale of a friendship at odds with nature (or is it nurture?), as the two titular animals befriend each other as children only to be raised as mortal enemies. Young fox Tod and baby pup Cooper (voiced by in-demand child actors Keith Coogan and Corey Feldman) happily frolick in their youth, but Cooper's hothead owner Amos suspects that Tod — taken in as an orphan by a neighboring widow — is after his chickens, and the burgeoning friendship is forbidden. The next winter, Cooper is trained to hunt and returns as a strapping predator (voiced by Kurt Russell), while Tod's (voiced by Mickey Rooney) unnatural domestication mitigates his instincts and ill-prepares him for life among the wild. When Cooper's mentor Chief (Pat Buttram) is injured chasing the fox, Cooper discards his lingering sentiment for Tod and swears revenge. While some critics and parents were shocked by the movie's grim climax and bittersweet finale — and the thinly-masked social commentary fits awkwardly on the four shoulders of anthropomorphized animals — the movie's greatest faults lie in its utterly forgettable supporting-character antics, as well as an approach to animation so flat and cheap (following a nice title sequence) that one scene even includes a waterfall that doesn't move. In other aspects, however, The Fox and the Hound at least partially earns its reputation. Although some may grumble that the suggestive, race-themed polemic — if only we weren't raised to hate each other so — is contextually odd, and the relationship between the title characters is developed too quickly, both Tod and Cooper make appealing characters, and the tear in the relationship is moving even when it creaks under the weight of inevitability. Also with voices by Pearl Bailey, Sandy Duncan, and Paul Winchell; directed by Ted Berman, Richard Rich, Art Stevens. Disney presents this 25th Anniversary Edition DVD in a good full-frame transfer (1.33:1, as was the 2000 Gold Classic Collection DVD release; the movie was screened in 1.66:1), with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. The feature is accompanied by a sneak peek at the upcoming video release The Fox and the Hound 2, the "Forest Friendship" Game, DVD storybook "New Best Friends," sing-along with the song "The Best of Friends," the featurette "Passing the Baton," plus the animated shorts "Lambert the Sheepish Lion" and "Lend a Paw." Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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